Marathon training nutrition guide – how to fuel for extensive training

Marathon training nutrition guide

Over the years I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. Sometimes out of curiosity, but mostly due to stubbornness. Today, as I put together this marathon training nutrition guide, I want to remind myself to remain focused while I train for my first marathon.

Running is not my core sport. I come from a kayaking background and there a workout rarely lasts more than an hour. Also, you have a lot of space in the boat to bring any type of food you wish. 

However, fueling was not my primary concern earlier. I ate mostly when I’m hungry and have never shied away from sweets. Only after I started running longer distances I found what difference proper nutrition makes.

Training for a marathon

Last year I started running more often and much longer than usually. As I prepared for my first half marathon I was upping the distance and squeezing workouts here and there. Some of those, however, were not as qualitative as I wanted them to be. Sometimes I just felt out of energy.

It all was a learning curve to me and much of it was due to improper nutrition. I ate either too close to the workout or haven’t properly eaten at all.

In the end, I’ve ran the half marathon in just under 1:28 – not bad and better than I expected. But with all the nutrition issues I felt that there is room for more.

So my next goal now is to run a marathon and I really want to make it right this time. This marathon training nutrition guide is a good first step to this. Proper fueling should definitely improve the quality of my workouts.

Last year it took me several months of easy running to feel that I can actually run fast. During autumn and winter I didn’t focus that much on consistency, but still kept the duration and intensity.

I hope it will not take as much to get back to where I left off.

My plan is to run a marathon somewhere in autumn, so I have time to prepare. Now I’m doing lots of easy running to get my endurance up to speed. But I do plan on participating in shorter distances before the big day as well (i.e. 10K or less) to test my speed.

I will post updates on my training schedule and progress on this blog, so stay tuned if you’re interested.

Marathon training nutrition guide

Coming back to the guide, in long distance events it’s all about economy. The less glycogen you can spend while maintaining speed the better.

Glycogen stores contain roughly 350 grams of carbohydrates – 1,400 kcal of energy. Enough for approximately 2 hours of intense exercise.

The beauty of marathon running is that it takes more than 2 hours to complete. So it’s very important to teach the body to utilize fuel effectively. And to maintain the correct pace, of course.

Schedule your nutrition

The first and most important part of the marathon training nutrition guide is food timing. There has to be fuel in the tank – no matter if it’s race or a workout. Always eat 2-3 hours prior to workout to allow for proper digestion.

Some suggest to fast before a workout to burn some fat. That is a good way to do it, but intensity of such workouts should be minimal – only easy jog.

Avoid full dinners and don’t skip breakfast. Body will keep digesting food while we sleep and will not work on healing micro-traumas in our body needed for complete recovery. Result – bad sleep and poor recovery.

It’s much better to skip or have a light dinner and get a proper breakfast to power your day.

Prepare your food in advance. With all possible life commitments we sometimes risk skipping a proper meal before a workout. Training on an empty tank is not fun. We have reserves, sure, but without extra food they run out quickly.

Take carbs with you on a run. I used to drink only water while I trained and thought that should be enough. Many runs later where the last quarter was much slower than the rest I figured I’m doing something wrong.

Over prolonged time spent in the zone the body runs out of energy. Taking food or sports drink with you will prevent loss of speed and will keep the muscles from running on reserves.

Focus on macro nutrients

Macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) ensure our tank is full before the workout. Any food we consume is made of these and the key is balance.

Any strict diet limiting one nutrient can seriously harm performance and add stress to the body. With proper training and balanced nutrition fat loss will come naturally.

Carbohydrates are the main energy source in our body. These are broken down into glucose from which we get energy pretty quickly. 

Glycogen in our muscles and liver is made of carbohydrates.

Fats ensure a well-oiled machine and proper functioning of the nerves and brain. Also, they serve as a energy source as well. During the lower intensity activities fatty acids are used to produce large quantities of energy.

Protein is the building block for muscles. Thanks to it our body is able to re-build micro-traumas caused during training. 

Look for protein that contains all essential amino acids (complete protein) and don’t be misguided by absolute numbers.

But above all, make sure you get enough calories. If you consistently under-eat you are running on reserves and eventually will break down.

A good rule to stick by is get around 60% of your energy from carbohydrates and split proteins and fats 20-20.

1 gram of either carbohydrates or protein gives 4kcal and 1 gram of fat gives 9kcal. Alcohol (ethanol), by the way, gives 7kcal. Something to think about…

Total daily caloric intake will vary from person to person, so it’s important to test it. Check your weight every now and then to make sure you’re not gaining or dropping it from week to week.

Weight can jump around 2 kilograms per day due to hydration, so take your measurements in the same environment, preferably in the morning.

Don’t forget to drink water

This marathon training nutrition guide would be incomplete without mentioning water. Hydration is extremely important both during training and recovery.

Lack of water in our body signals the body to slow down its processes and save effort. It is because of this that we get tired towards the end of what seemed like an easy workout. Or a day at work, even.

Ensure you’re properly hydrated throughout the day and don’t forget to sip water while you train. Your muscles and the whole body will be much more effective and will thank you for that.

Keep an eye on vitamins & minerals

Vitamins and minerals ensure our body runs smoothly and remains healthy.

A pretty good thing to have, right?

Vitamin E – reduces muscle damage. Quite handy when you have lots of miles to cover.

Vitamin D – supports immune system and reduces inflammation. In summer we produce it naturally by exposing ourselves to the sun, but in colder and nastier months a supplement may be a good idea.

Group B vitamins – help to keep our nerves calm. Additional stress at work, during training or even in Spring and Autumn when infections are all around can our bodies a hard time. These vitamins help us avoid getting mental and physical burnouts. 

Key minerals you want to look for are Magnesium (reduces pain, fatigue and insomnia), Iron (aids in oxygen transport. Take it with Vitamin C for better absorption) and Zinc (involved in body’s defense system).

And that’s about it. I hope you enjoyed this short marathon training nutrition guide. Stay tuned for more updates!

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